CARACAS (Reuters) - The Malaysian company that owns a U.S.-hired oil survey ship detained last week by Venezuela in a territorial dispute with neighboring Guyana said on Tuesday the boat and its 36-member crew had been released.
SapuraKencana Petroleum said in a statement it was grateful to President Nicolas Maduro's government for releasing the RV Teknik Perdana, which was picked up by Venezuela's navy last week and taken to Margarita island.
"We wish to express our gratitude to the Venezuelan government for caring for the safety and welfare of the crew, which comprises multiple nationalities, during the time they were at Margarita Island and also for releasing the vessel," the Kuala Lumpur-based company said in a statement.
There was no immediate confirmation from Venezuela and Guyana, whose foreign ministers had planned to meet on Thursday in Trinidad and Tobago to discuss the situation and the two nations' century-old border dispute.
Venezuela's navy boarded and seized the RV Teknik Perdana, which was being used by Texas-based Anadarko for a seabed survey, on Thursday.
Maduro's government said the ship had violated Venezuelan waters but Guyana said it was well within its territory and the seizure was an act of aggression.
Guyanese officials said the crew included citizens of eight countries: the United States, Russia, France, Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia, Panama and Ukraine.
Guyana awarded Anadarko Petroleum a deep-water exploration license in June last year for a block named Roraima.
Oil companies have been increasingly interested in the northeastern shoulder of South America since a discovery off nearby French Guyana in 2011 that industry experts described as a game-changer for the region's energy prospects.
Venezuela and Guyana have long argued about the status of the disputed Essequibo region, an area on the border about the size of the U.S. state of Georgia, and over rights to the ocean resources that lie offshore. Venezuela calls it a reclamation zone but in practice it functions as Guyanese territory.
SapuraKencana said its president and group CEO Tan Sri Shahril Shamsuddin had met Venezuela's ambassador to Malaysia to try and resolve the matter.
"At that meeting, the Venezuelan ambassador gave a firm assurance that the crew were safe and were being treated well by the authorities there," it said, adding that Malaysia's envoy in Venezuela had rushed to Margarita to help mediate the situation.
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Deisy Buitrago and Bill Trott)